With Richard Parker’s surrender and imprisonment, the inevitable retribution began. The British Navy had a tradition of leniency towards certain kinds of mutiny but by the same token ruthlessly suppressed mutinies which struck at the authority of the captain. The Nore mutiny clearly fell into the latter category and the mutineers, by their blockade of the Thames, had forfeited any claim to being considered loyal subjects, a theme, we will recall which was relentlessly repeated by Valentine Joyce and the Spithead mutineers.
The sailors involved in the mutiny were under no illusions about what was coming.
If you were an observer at the gala celebrating the end to the Spithead mutiny you might have noticed this scene:
At about eight the high and mighty were ready, and all made for the Ally Port once more, near which a curious incident occurred. It was noticed that Joyce was accosted by four men in plain clothes, with whom he talked a little, and then took along with him into his boat.
These men were elected delegates from the North Sea Fleet based at The Nore. Mutiny had broken out and they were now trying to coordinate their actions with that of the Channel Fleet. Wisely, Joyce would have none of it.
Visit all our posts on the Spithead Mutiny and the mutiny at The Nore.
One of the bugbears afflicting the British government during the Spithead mutiny was the notion that the mutiny was actually operating under the control of either the French revolutionary regime, the United Irishmen, or some similar seditious element. The idea that the men could be reacting to a history of being the victims of officially condoned brutality and sharp financial dealings on the part of the government had a great deal of trouble registering with the Admiralty’s collective brain even after commanders in the Channel Fleet voiced sympathy with some of the demands.
Wild rumors flourished. Valentine Joyce, a Jerseyman raised in Portsmouth, was portrayed as a failed Belfast tobacconist. Thomas Grenville, brother of the Marquess of Buckingham, wrote:
I cannot help fearing the evil is…deeply rooted in the influence of Jacobin emissaries and the Corresponding Society.
I am more and more convinced that Jacobin management and influence is at the bottom of this evil.
Now the dalliance of Parliament and the blinding stupidity of the Admiralty combined into what was a potentially deadly set of circumstances. Bridport had heard French fleet was out on May 3, but the winds were not favorable for the Channel Fleet to sail until May 7. Because the Seamen’s Bill had not passed Commons and the Fleet now knew of the Admiralty order to suppress all dissent, he knew fleet would not move. So he did the prudent thing and he didn’t order it to sortie.
The Fleet delegates now moved to force action. Sometime during the night of May 6-7 the delegates decided to remove all unpopular officers as a way of demonstrating their resolve and to remove potential flashpoints of violence. They also suspected that the Admiralty would attempt to deal with the mutiny ship by ship. To prevent this from happening all the ships in the mutiny were ordered to move to St. Helens where they could be sequestered from Admiralty agents and kept out of range of the militia congregating in Portsmouth.
Around 9 am the delegates began moving from ship to ship passing the word. Some officers were removed with every courtesy. Others were unceremoniously bundled ashore.
The Admiralty and the fleet delegates were now at a standoff. The delegates had presented a very respectful petition which had initially been ignored. When the Admiralty got around to addressing the petition they essentially ignored it. Now the delegates had refused to be dealt with by a bum’s rush.
Over dinner the Admiralty board members who were negotiating with the delegates came to the conclusion that the incipient mutiny was actually the doing of a small number of agitators and that most of the fleet remained obedient.They conceived the idea that the officers aboard all but a small number of recalcitrant ships could order their cables slipped and take their ships out of Spithead to St. Helens Roads. The worst offenders would remain at anchor and be dealt with at leisure.
A solution, perhaps the least preferred solution, but a solution nonetheless.
The differences between the mutinies occurring sequentially at Spithead and The Nore can best be explained by the leadership.
The self styled “President of the Fleet” during the mutiny at The Nore was a failed midshipman, failed teacher, named Richard Parker. The head of the mutiny at Spithead is unknown but the presumed guiding hand was provided by a 27 year old quartermaster’s mate from the HMS Royal George, the flagship of Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport.